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Courtroom: The LARP

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I've never been one for a full-blown LARP. The whole dressing up with optional rubber implements has just never done it for me. But the other day I thought of an idea for a sortof LARPish game that could be run at a convention. I'm not sure how original it is (it wouldn't surprise me if I'm the nth person to think about it) but I figured I'd put it up here and see what people thought of it.

Outline

The game consists entirely of a court case, starting with opening statements and pleas, moving through the presentation of the case, the jury deliberations and then finally the verdict.

In terms of whether it qualifies as a "live-action" game, it's "live", in the sense that people - some of whom will be dressed in costumes - are acting it out for real, but it's not action, since there is no combat or physical activity.

I'm not sure how many people will go for it, because for most of the participants it will be a very passive experience consisting mainly of listening and thinking. But I think it could be a good game for when people want to do something, but don't feel up to something intense (typically because they've been drinking heavily the night before). It could also be good for new people who are a bit nervous about getting into something where they will be required to perform.

I'm a Englishman with damn-all legal knowledge, and I've done bugger all research - so the court proceedings that I describe are based on my knowledge of the British legal system cross-contaminated by all the American TV I've spent my life watching.

Participants (PCs / NPCs)

This game blurs the distinction between PCs and NPCs. The division I've made here is:

  • NPCs are given a description of their character's personality, and are required to play it as such. If the description says, "Has a tendency to blurt out the truth when being questioned aggressively" then that is how you should play it.
  • PCs are required to play their role as "best they can" and have no pre-defined personality.

The PCs are as follows:

Prosecuting Barrister: The prosecuting barrister is responsible for prosecuting the case. If they want, they can have a friend help them out as a second prosecuting barrister. This role could involve a costume (the wig and stuff) and is a very demanding, requiring a lot of quick-thinking to avoid embarrassing yourself.

Defending Barrister: Similar to the prosecuting barrister, but defending the case. You get to shout "objection" now and again.

Judge: Makes sure that the case is conducted properly. This mainly involves ruling on the "objection" claims by the defence, making outrageous decisions based on nothing more than an episode of LA Law you once saw, and asking stupid questions when you feel the need.

The Jury: This can be upto 12 players, but you could do with less. This is a very passive role, except for the final deliberations, and doesn't require any "acting". It's basically for people who enjoy good detective stories and are in a mood to do something mellow and thoughtful. (It's basically like getting to watch a detective play and then vote on the result).

The NPCs are as follows:

Court Usher: This is really a "public" role for the GM (a.k.a. the person running the game). It allows them to make sure it goes smoothly.

Witnesses: These are all the people who know something about the crime, and can therefore be called by the barristers to give evidence. The most important witness is the defendant (although the defence can opt not to call him). The witnesses will probably also include the policemen who first responded to the crime.

Writing The Scenario

Although the action takes place in a courtroom, it's all about uncovering the truth concerning a crime that previously happened. So in a sense, the task of the writer is to come up with a suitably involved crime (a "whodunnit") full of twists and turns, and then write a series of witness statements that together contain all the relevant facts.

Before The Game

The jury don't have to do anything other than turn up at the appropriate time.

Before the game (preferably the day before, so that they can study it and start building their case) the prosecuting and defending barristers will be given the following:

  • The statement given by each witness to the police after the crime occurred.
  • Some kind of overview report by the police.

The Witnesses will have previously been given the following:

  • Their own witness statement.
  • A description of the actual truth about what they saw and what they know (which if they were lying, could be quite different from their statement).
  • A description of their general character, outlook and behaviour.

The Venue

The venue should be a room laid out like a courtroom, with places for the judge, barristers, defendant (the dock), witnesses and the jury.

Unlike most games, this game is eminently suitable for having non-participants watch, so you could also set up a "public gallery" for other people to rubberneck.

The Game

The game proceeds through the following stages:

  • The defendant enters their plea (which will, of course, be guilty).
  • The barristers make their opening statements. They can have written these in advance (after getting the "info pack" the night before), or they can just ad-lib.
  • The prosecution call their witnesses, with each witness being questioned by first the prosecution, and then the defence.
  • The defence call their witnesses, with each witness being questioned by first the defence, and then the prosecution.
  • The jury retire to a separate room (or outside, or wherever) and have ten minutes to come to a decision. They then troop back inside and their elected foreman gives the result.

Enhancing The Experience

The whole thing could be made much more interesting by the liberal use of props. These could range from simple things like murder weapons, to more information-giving items such as maps or plans (perhaps with an expert witness to explain them), moving up finally to things like CCTV footage of the actual crime taking place. Basically, anything to break up what would otherwise be an endless trail of witnesses, and also throw other clues into the mix beyond straight witness-delivered facts.

Final Thoughts

That's really it. It would involve a lot of work, but then you could run it multiple times at the one convention. I think it could be good at a convention because it would offer a genuinely different experience that you couldn't get just playing a game with your mates in your front room.

If you've ever watched Tom Cruise screaming, "Did you order a Code Red?" and thought, "I could do that!" then I figure this one might be for you. Or if it's a Sunday morning at a Gaelcon, and you're hungover enough that you don't fancy a game which involves speaking, well then perhaps jury service takes your fancy?


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